EPA Proposes Weakening Clean Air Protections

Date:   March 31, 2003
Contact:   Joy Oakes, NPCA, 202-329-6815

EPA Proposes Weakening Clean Air Protections

Washington, DC - The Environmental Protection Agency today is holding five public hearings about proposed changes to the Clean Air Act, soliciting comments from the public about a plan to weaken protections that require polluting industries to improve pollution controls when upgrading their plants.
"The new regulations will allow corporations to spend tens of millions of dollars modifying power plants and other industrial smokestacks without requiring them to improve pollution controls--no matter how much pollution increases because of the modifications," said Joy Oakes, spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association. "That means more pollution harming our national parks, park visitors, and people across the country. Most Americans want clean air laws to be enforced, not weakened. Yet the administration already has weakened existing protections, and now proposes even more. If the administration continues to ignore public opposition to weakening clean air programs, these public hearings are nothing more than an elaborate April Fool's joke on the American people."
The proposed changes to the New Source Review program (NSR) represent the most dramatic rollback of clean-air laws to date. NSR requires coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, and other large polluting facilities to adopt modern pollution controls and to examine impacts on downwind populated areas and national parks before undertaking actions that would otherwise increase the amount of pollution that the facilities release. Under the proposed rule changes, facilities will no longer be required to install modern pollution controls regardless of any emissions increases as long as they satisfy either of two permissive conditions. First, structural alterations will not trigger the control requirements if the cost of making the changes is less than a certain percentage of the cost of the entire facility. Second, no modern pollution controls will be mandated, regardless of cost, if the change can be portrayed as the replacement of one piece of equipment with another piece of equipment that serves the same function, even if pollution increases as a result.
Air pollution from the few dozen industries sued by the Department of Justice in 1999 for violating the long-standing NSR program are responsible for as many as 7,000 premature deaths and 170,000 asthma attacks yearly. Approximately 17,000 industrial sources currently are subject to the program's requirements.
"Congress gave industries time to phase in necessary controls when it strengthened the law 25 years ago," Oakes said. "National parks and communities continue to suffer from the effects of pollution. To rewrite the laws meant to protect people and parks, and to allow overhauls of old facilities without installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls, violates the public trust. So far, EPA has weakened the law and is protecting polluters, not people and parks. We urge EPA to hear the public's concerns, and choose to protect and enforce existing clean air programs, not weaken them."


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